OKC VeloCity | Legislative Update: Legislature begins 2020 session; Chamber focuses on economic development issues

Legislative Update: Legislature begins 2020 session; Chamber focuses on economic development issues

By Mark VanLandingham / Policy / February 21, 2020

The 2020 Legislative Session began on Feb. 3 when Gov. Kevin Stitt (R-Tulsa) delivered his second State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate. A major theme of Gov. Stitt’s speech was a call for additional agency consolidation as he seeks to build upon his successful government reform initiatives enacted in 2019. Stitt is proposing consolidation of the Pardon and Parole Board under the Department of Corrections, identifying further efficiencies between the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority and Oklahoma Department of Transportation and merging the Office of Emergency Management with the Department of Homeland Security. He also proposed reforming the state’s merit protection system and reclassifying state employees during the next five years.

With a projected $85 million less to spend for the next fiscal year, Gov. Stitt also asked legislators to place an additional $100 million into the state’s rainy day fund. He also expressed support for Sen. Joe Newhouse’s (R-Tulsa) legislation to send to a vote of the people a 30 percent increase in the constitutional cap on the rainy day fund.

Gov. Stitt used part of his address to outline his “SoonerCare 2.0” proposal that will seek to utilize the Trump Administration’s new “Healthy Adult Opportunity” block grant program to provide increased health insurance coverage to Oklahoma’s uninsured population. This proposal represents the governor’s effort to provide a state-based alternative to SQ 802, which would fully expand Medicaid for up to 200,000 Oklahomans under the Affordable Care Act. SQ 802 is expected to be on the ballot this year.

This session, a total of 2,236 new bills and joint resolutions (1,361 House bills, 16 House joint resolutions; 840 Senate bills, 19 Senate joint resolutions) were filed by legislators. When combined with 2,300 carryover bills and resolutions available from last session, this year marks the first time the state Legislature has more than 4,000 bills and joint resolutions under consideration.

This first legislative update for 2020 addresses several economic development issues the Chamber will be lobbying on this session at the Capitol.

Legislation Advances to Optimize Use of New Software Engineering/Cyber-Security Program

Last year, the Chamber led an effort to pass legislation to create the Oklahoma Software and Cyber- Security Talent Incentive program. The program was designed to address a severe statewide workforce shortage of software/cyber-security engineers (including Tinker AFB, which could presently hire 1,000 such employees) by providing a tax credit for those who obtained the appropriate degree or accreditation. After the session, a drafting error in the new law was discovered which led to a very narrow interpretation by the Oklahoma Tax Commission of those who could claim the credit.

The Chamber’s legislation to fix the error advanced early this session. SB 1204 by Sen. Stephanie Bice (R-Oklahoma City) passed the Senate Finance Committee 9-0 on Feb. 11, and HB 3192 by Rep. John Pfeiffer (R-Mulhall) passed the House Appropriations & Budget Finance Subcommittee 8-0 on Feb. 13. Those bills also seek to eliminate a provision which would unintentionally disadvantage companies qualifying for the Oklahoma Quality Jobs Act (QJA) which also have employees who receive the new credit.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

Chamber Seeks to Protect Critical Economic Development Incentives

The Chamber supports retaining and improving a limited number of the state’s economic and community development programs. If a program doesn’t provide the state a positive return on its investment, the Chamber will not seek to retain it. The Chamber uses these programs to recruit companies and jobs to Oklahoma and help our existing companies grow. These programs include: Quality Jobs Act, 21st Century QJA, Small Employer QJA and the Prime Contractor QJA; Aerospace Engineer Tax Credit; Investment/New Jobs Tax Credit; Historical Building Rehabilitation Tax Credit; Software/Cybersecurity Tax Credit; Five-year ad valorem abatement and sales tax exemption for manufacturing facilities; and Regional Home Office Insurance Premium Tax Credit. 

The Chamber strongly supported the creation of the state’s Incentive Evaluation Commission in 2015 and has regularly met with its consultants to provide information on the effectiveness of the incentive programs we use. This session, we are evaluating efforts to further strengthen this review process.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

Chamber Focuses on Additional Criminal Justice Reform

The Chamber has made meaningful criminal justice reform a top priority for the past several years. We support the Legislature taking further steps to prevent Oklahoma from being one of the most heavily incarcerated states in the country. From an economic development perspective, it is not fiscally sustainable to lock up more offenders (per capita) than anyone. It’s especially troubling when many of those offenders are low-level, non-violent individuals who pose little or no threat to the public, but simply need an appropriate diversion program (drug court, mental health treatment, probation/supervision, etc.) to get back into society as productive individuals. The Chamber has worked with partners to achieve success at the Oklahoma County Jail (2,700 inmates/night to 1,600 inmates/night) and is focused on replicating those results at the state level.

At least 100 criminal justice bills have been filed this year. The Chamber is working with district attorneys, State Chamber, state agencies and others to build on the work of the state’s Reclassification Council on sentencing reform, as well as to pursue bail reform that reached an impasse last session. There are also additional areas where we are optimistic of success this session. One is appropriating additional state dollars into the State Question 781 mental health fund, enacting legislation on supervision reform and legislation by Rep. Nicole Miller (R-Edmond) and Rep. Brian Hill (R-Mustang) to allow those leaving prison to obtain a driver’s license and other necessary documents. These are common sense steps to ease Oklahoma’s incarceration burden and transition individuals into becoming productive members of society. 

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

Measures Filed to Allow Guns on Campus

For the past several sessions, the Chamber has led a group of more than 50 individual businesses, business associations, educational institutions and law enforcement organizations called “Oklahomans for Business and Property Owners’ Rights.” The coalition is focused on preventing irresponsible expansion of gun laws that would negatively impact economic development or the rights of business owners and event hosts. Last session, while permitless carry was signed into law, the coalition worked with Gov. Stitt and legislative leadership to strengthen the rights of business and property owners in the legislation. This session, more than 30 gun bills have been filed and a number of carryover bills from 2019 are also available to be heard.

Several are bills to allow firearms to be carried on college campuses, including SB 1567/1570 by Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow). We are hopeful these measures won’t move forward as Oklahoma’s higher education institutions are united against guns being introduced into a campus environment. The Chamber will continue to engage with its partners against the passage of gun legislation which would impede economic development or negate the rights of business owners.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

Competing Plans Emerge for Expanding Health Coverage

The Chamber supports Oklahoma’s pursuit of all available funds (including federal) to extend health insurance coverage to more Oklahomans and stabilize costs for employers and providers. The prospects of expanded coverage have shifted in a positive direction as competing visions to pursue federal funds have recently been outlined by Gov. Stitt and proponents of State Question 802. 

Gov. Stitt recently stood with Trump administration officials in Washington, D.C. as they announced the new “Healthy Adult Opportunity” (HAO) program. This initiative is designed to allow states such as Oklahoma who have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (14 states have not expanded) to apply for a waiver under the ACA to use block grants to provide expanded health care coverage to their uninsured population. Gov. Stitt used that occasion to announce his “SoonerCare 2.0” initiative that envisions HAO block grant funding, managed care, work requirements, increased Supplemental Hospital Offset Payment Program (SHOPP) fees and savings from agency consolidation as a means expanding health insurance coverage for Oklahomans. Gov. Stitt’s plan would use $150 million in state funds (which he believes can be found through non-appropriated funds gained from agency consolidation) to receive $1.1 billion back in federal funds. The Chamber is currently neutral on SoonerCare 2.0.

Gov. Stitt proposal is in response to State Question 802, which he opposes, that will be on the ballot later this year. SQ 802, if passed, would fully expand Medicaid (providing a 9:1 federal/state match) to those up to 138% of the federal poverty line (an estimated 200,000 Oklahomans). If SQ 802 passes, it would supersede the governor’s plan, as it would be a constitutional amendment.

For more information, please contact Derek Sparks.

Chamber Supports Amending State Law to Spur Development of Regional Rail Transit

The Chamber is a long-time supporter of providing increased transportation options to central Oklahoma residents as an important component of economic and workforce development. This session, we are partnering with the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) of Central Oklahoma to pursue legislation authored by Sen. Adam Pugh (R-Edmond) and Rep. Ryan Martinez (R-Edmond) (SB 1263/HB 3155). The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced SB 1263 by a vote of 10-0 on Feb. 18. This legislation is essential to early stage development of future rail transit (Edmond-OKC-Norman) and critical to ensure negotiations with class 1 railroads and decades of planning will continue to move forward. 

SB 1263/HB 3155 seek to amend the Oklahoma Government Tort Claims Act to: 1) define the RTA as a political subdivision under the Act; 2) extend liability protections for the limited purpose of class 1 railroads “stepping into the shoes of government” (RTA); and, 3) allow for indemnification in contractual negotiations between class 1 railroads and the RTA. We believe these changes are straightforward and will ultimately generate positive outcomes that will serve as a model for every region of Oklahoma that pursues the development of regional transit.

For more information, please contact Derek Sparks.

Chamber Executive Committee Hosts Roundtable Lunch Series with Gov. Stitt

Several members of the Chamber’s Executive Committee hosted a Government Relations Roundtable Series lunch with Gov. Stitt and several members of his staff. Chamber leaders engaged in dialogue with the governor regarding his priorities and ours including economic development, criminal justice reform, higher education reform, health care and gun legislation.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

Chamber Executive Committee Hosts Roundtable Lunch Series with House Democrats

Several members of the Chamber’s Executive Committee hosted a Government Relations Roundtable Series lunch with House Democratic Minority Leader Emily Virgin (D-Norman) and caucus member Reps. David Perryman (D-Chickasha), Forrest Bennett (D-OKC), Cyndi Munson (D-OKC) and Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa). Chamber leaders engaged in dialogue with House Democrats on economic development, criminal justice reform, health care and higher education reform.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.  

Chamber Holds Successful Legislative Breakfast

The Chamber hosted its annual legislative breakfast featuring a panel discussion moderated by Brad Krieger, the Chamber’s vice-chair for government relations, with the following members of Oklahoma’s legislative leadership: Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC), House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols (R-OKC), Senate Democratic Leader Kay Floyd (D-OKC) and House Democratic Minority Emily Virgin (D-Norman). The legislators answered questions before an audience in excess of 500 on topics including Medicaid expansion or alternatives, criminal justice reform, redistricting, higher education and gun legislation. 

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

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